Meet this Zinester: Punks Around

Who are you? Where are you based?
My name is Alex, and I’m currently based in East Providence, RI, but formally outside Boston, and before that, Southside Chicago. Punks Around has followed me to all of those places.

What are zines to you?
Punks Around #10 was conveniently called “The Zine About Zines,” and there is a piece in there that I wrote about my discussion with Aaron Cometbus about what zines mean to him and us. He made the point that fanzines are exactly that— fan magazines. A really great zine can be about ANYTHING as long as it captures the enthusiasm of the author and conveys their fandom. I think that’s 100% accurate, but I will also add that zines can be instructional (mutual aid and direct action manuals), and it can be a piece of advertisement. Have you ever seen a ‘booklet’ at a conference or fair? That can count as a zine.

As I wrote about in that piece, the beauty of zines is that they’re amorphous pieces of literature that can be sold anywhere and that can have either a broad appeal or an extremely niche appeal.

Tell me about your zines. What kind of zines do you make?
I did a little bit of that above, but Punks Around is a zine about all the non-musical aspects of punk rock. I feel like a lot of Punk zines are focused on musicians and record labels, that I wanted to create an outlet where the focus wasn’t on the music. So, I’m cool with musicians being in the zine, as long as they’re talking about something other than their band and equipment. For instance, Bob Otis of the band Dropdead was in #8 “The Eggplant Eater’s Edition” but not to talk about Dropdead— he was talking about what veganism means to him.

Recent issues have been about POC Punks (11) and ABC (All But Cis) (12) Punks, and the next two will be about Straight Edge Punks (13) and Mental Health and Punk Rock (14).

What inspires you to create zines?
Honestly, I come from an academic background. I was in Chicago for my PhD program in history, and I moved to Brandeis University to finish it. I see how many monographs are published per year in my field, and I feel like they’re so specialized and often lacking ‘fandom’ that I wanted to create something less ‘professional’ and more drawn from a source of pure passion and enthusiasm. Balancing the academic work with the zine is a lot of fun for me, and both sort of embody my two halves.

What’s your favorite thing about zines?
That they’re accessible, amorphous, and open. As a platform, they’re everything you want people to be.

Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
It was Punks Around #1, and it was only a short story that I wrote about my first visit to Russia. I published a book called “What About Tomorrow?: An Oral History of Russian Punk Rock from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot” (Microcosm, 2019). It was more of a professional oral history without my own stories or experiences. So I wanted an easy outlet to get my stories out there, and I figured that because I love hearing stories as much as I love telling them, I would solicit people to submit their own stories and give them a chance to get ‘published.’

Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
It’s chaotic. It really depends on the topic. If I suspect that the issue will only sell 150-200 copies, I print it myself. If I suspect it will sell more than that, then I send a PDF file to a local printer and have them run off stacks of paper for me to put together. For instance, #6 “Armageddon” sold about 200 copies through me, and I printed it myself. The POC issue, on the other hand, sold about 500, 1) because its timing was topical and 2) because the proceeds went to a local anti-ICE org. So I had a printer run those off. After the initial rush orders, I usually do print to order, or I send the entire file to Microcosm Publishing, where they print to order and let me off the hook.

What do you hope people get out of your zines?
I want them to see the diversity of the world and start to understand how complicated it is. Identities are not the only things that make the world a complicated, multifaceted place. Ideologies, experiences, and presentation also condition how people see themselves and others, and I hope that by covering these topics, we can start to open our minds collectively to others.

Name two of your favorite zinesters.
Aaron Cometbus and Matt Thompson (Fluke)

Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
Don’t worry about getting the cost-to-produce logistics right. You’re gonna lose money or even out. Just worry about conveying your enthusiasm. You’re gonna fuck up plenty of times, print 100 copies of a bum cover and waste ink, or tear your hair out trying to figure out page numbers. It’s all natural. What matters is that your enthusiasm comes out.

Is there a zine website or resource you would recommend new zinesters to check out?
Go to your local independent bookstore.

My Instagram is @Punksaround.

Interview conducted by Solansh M.
Photos provided by Alex

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